Majora, minora, urethra and mons pubis - these are just some of the components (or parts) that make up the female genitalia, but what exactly do they all do and where can we find them?
Years of misinformation, stigma and substitute language (think ‘flower’ or ‘thingie’) have led to a universal lack of anatomical understanding and, according to a 2019 study, a whopping 73% of women still don’t even know the difference between the vulva and vagina. In order to talk about and assess symptoms, issues and solutions, we first need to know which body parts we’re talking about. Imagine asking your doctor to remove a lump on your nose when really it is on your chin. Unheard of, right? So, why do we remain so blissfully unaware when it comes to female anatomy?
Do you really know the difference between the vulva and the vagina? What is the purpose of a clitoral hood? Is there a norm when it comes to labia? Continue reading as we ‘unpack’ everything you need to know about female anatomy.
Vagina vs. Vulva and all the bits inbetween...
The vulva is the outer part of your genitals that you can see. It is made up of the mons-pubis, labia majora and labia minora, the clitoris, clitoral hood, urethral opening, and vaginal opening.
The vagina is the inner muscular canal that connects the vulva with your cervix (the small, O-shaped muscle at the top of your vagina).
What should the Vulva look like?
It’s totally fine to wonder if you look ‘normal’ down there and also to be a little confused about what ‘normal’ looks like. The truth is that, whilst they are all made up of the same basic parts, everyone's vulva looks a little different.
In 2018, a study of over 600 women found that the labia minora (inner lips) ranges between 5mm and 100mm long, while the average labia majora ranges from 12mm to 180mm long. Some women choose to have surgery to correct the way their labia look and, also, to fix any discomfort caused by having larger labia - we will go into this in more depth, later.
So, what are all the 'parts' of the external sexual anatomy (vulva) called and what do they do?
The mons is the fleshy mound above the vulva. After puberty, this area becomes covered in pubic hair which some women choose to keep, groom or remove altogether. Its primary purpose is to cushion the pubic bone. Due to the fatty nature of this area, size and shape can vary drastically from one woman to the next. Some women opt to have surgery to reduce the size of the mons pubis.
Interesting fact: The mons pubis also contains sebaceous glands that secrete pheromones to encourage sexual attraction.
The Labia majora, otherwise known as the “outer lips", are large fleshy folds, made up of hair-bearing skin and underlying fatty tissue. Their primary purpose is to enclose and protect the other external genital organs. Like the mons pubis, they come in all different sizes.
The labia minora look and feel different to the labia majora. Otherwise known as the “inner lips”, they are softer and non-hair-bearing.
Both the labia majora and labia minora grow during puberty and can also change in shape due to aging or childbirth.
For some, the labia majora completely covers the labia minora. Others may have labia minora that sticks out beyond the labia majora. Whilst this can all be considered ‘normal’, many women opt to have surgery to improve the appearance or help with discomfort. This is called Labiaplasty surgery.
Located at the very front of the vulva, at the top of your labia minora, the clitoris is the main area of sexual sensation for women. From the outside, the clitoris looks like an oval-shaped bud. This visible part is called the “glans clitoris,” but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The whole clitoris is much bigger than the eye can see, with an internal structure that wraps around the vaginal canal. Like the penis enlarges with arousal, so does the clitoris. Linked directly to sex and intimacy, the clitoris is an extremely sensitive part of the body, with the most nerve endings of any organ in the human body — around 10,000 in total.
The clitoral hood is a soft fold of skin covering the glans clitoris and is equivalent to the foreskin on a penis. The clitoral hood is there to protect the highly sensitive clitoris from irritation and friction. During arousal, the clitoris swells up and the clitoral hood pulls back to expose the glans clitoris.
The urethral opening is the hole that connects the urethra to the vulva and this is where we urinate from. The urethral opening is a small hole within the vulva that sits just above the vagina. Many adult women don’t know that they have two openings within the vulva - the urethra and the vagina.
The vaginal opening lives between your labia minora and just below the urethral opening. It's where menstrual blood leaves your body and, when you give birth, it is where the baby comes from. The area surrounding your vaginal opening and your urethra is called the vaginal vestibule.
What is a Labiaplasty?
Many women suffer from an enlarged labia, although most are still within the ‘normal’ range. Some may not like the appearance of their labia. You may be bothered by labial irritation while conducting normal activities, or find it difficult to keep the labial area clean or experience pain during sexual intercourse, sports or other vigorous activities.
Labiaplasty surgery is used to reduce the size of the inner and/or outer lips of the vulva - the labia minora and/or the labia majora. During labiaplasty, the aesthetic surgeon removes any excess tissue to reshape uneven or large labia, improving their appearance and reducing associated discomfort or insecurity.
The experienced surgeons at Bella Vou provide bespoke Intimate Rejuvenation. Labia Minora Reduction (for example) can be an effective stand-alone procedure. It can also be combined with a Labia Majora or a Clitoral Hood Reduction to remove excess folds of skin, rejuvenate the vulva overall and create a more harmonious and attractive genital appearance.
Female Anatomy: The Takeaway
Getting to know your body can help you break down some of the shame and uncertainty surrounding your own genitalia. Throughout this article, we have highlighted that there is no such thing as ‘normal’ when it comes to female genitalia; the most important thing is that you are happy, healthy and comfortable. You may be one of the many women that desire surgical intervention to make this happen, or you may choose to leave things as-is. Both options are totally fine.
Being able to identify the many different parts of your anatomy will help you flag when something isn’t quite right, so you can accurately describe the problem to someone you trust or to a doctor or surgeon.
It is time to stop confusing the words “vagina” and “vulva”, and to acknowledge that there is a very distinctive difference. The year is 2023; we are living amongst Artificial Intelligence and have the World Wide Web at our fingertips. Isn’t it time for women to own their own anatomy, once and for all?
Why Should you Book a Consultation?
The consultation is the moment when you can ask prospective surgeons all of the questions that you may have while being able to discuss your unique physiology, desired outcomes and potential risks. Make the most of this opportunity by asking the right questions.
Download the most frequently asked questions that our surgeons are asked on a daily basis as well as some of the ones that we wish prospective patients would ask more:
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Last Updated: June 28, 2023
Published On: February 8, 2023